PhD Thesis: A model for emergent citizen-focussed local electronic democracy
Situated within the emerging fields of Digital Democracy (eDemocracy) and Community Informatics (CI), this mixed methods research explores the factors affecting the uptake of electronic democratic (eDemocracy) processes in a regional community setting from a citizen-driven (bottom–up) perspective. Critical social theory and a social-critical approach were used to guide sequential phases of data collection. Phase I was a primarily quantitative survey of ICT users active in the community and voluntary sector in New Zealand and Phase II consisted of qualitative interviews with a range of actors involved in community informatics in Waitakere City, analysed by using grounded theory methodology.
The research findings describe the processes that occur between and within community and local government that can lead to the adoption of eDemocracy practices that privilege citizens. eDemocracy is revealed as being more than internet-enabling the processes of local democracy, rather it incorporates strategies to ensure the equitable and effective use of ICT as well. To make this happen, a socially-oriented process of transformation must occur, where grounded leadership in both community and local government drives and supports change through technical actions that lead to transformed democratic processes.
The value of ICT is shown to lie in the potential to lower the barriers to democratic engagement and to provide tools that communities can develop and manage for themselves. Citizen-led local eDemocracy does not remove or challenge the role of representative government, rather it extends the options for how democracy can occur in a local setting and allows for the emergence of new deliberative, issues-based and individually-focussed platforms for engagement.